One of the most offensively stout and quarterback stable divisions in all of football, the NFC South is easily the toughest division in the NFL. From Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to Tom Brady and Mike Evans, playing defense in a division this talented is a tall task to complete. With training camp so close to beginning, what will these quarterbacks of the NFC South have to look forward to defensively?
Atlanta’s defensive line took a big hit this offseason with the departures of Vic Beasley Jr. and Adrian Clayborn. They signed former Los Angeles Rams defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. to help fill a much-needed hole in the defense. Along with Fowler, Atlanta will look to All-Pro defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who had 7.5 sacks in 2019, and defensive end Takkarist McKinley, who had only 3.5 sacks last season, to pressure what seems like a gauntlet of NFC South quarterbacks. Pass rushing will have to be a focal point in 2020 for Atlanta who had a decent run at the end of 2019.
Along with Atlanta’s dismal defensive line depth, cornerback seems to be an issue for the defense. The Falcons defensive backfield allowed just under 4,000 yards passing in 2019 ranking them 23rd in the league. A key departure for Atlanta’s defensive backfield was defensive back, Desmond Trufant. Atlanta drafted rookie A.J. Terrell in the first round this year who will play with a very young secondary. Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield, along with Terrell, will look to improve the defensive passing efficiency in 2020. This points to a possible free agent signing before the season officially kicks off.
Linebacker is also a huge weakness for Atlanta heading into 2020. Deion Jones headlines Atlanta’s returning backer depth along with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon. This position group has to be the biggest glaring need for the team in 2020 with not much reliable and consistent talent among them. Players like Edmond Robinson and Laroy Reynolds will need to step up their games if Atlanta wants to keep explosive plays from happening in the middle of the defense. There is hopefulness and upside with this group, but they lack proven playmakers in a division home to some of the best skill players in the NFL.
Cornerback seems to be an issue for the Carolina Panthers heading into 2020. With the departure of cornerback James Bradberry to the New York Giants, Carolina will look to third-year man Donte Jackson and new free-agent signee Eli Apple to make a difference in the secondary. Jackson saw fewer snaps in 2019 and doesn’t look to be a consistent piece in a depthless Panthers secondary. As of right now, Apple and Jackson will be the Panthers two starting outside players, which doesn’t bode well with the wide receiver and tight end talent of the NFC South. Outside of these two players, along with some rookies and undrafted free agents, Carolina could be one injury away from having a colossal problem in their secondary. Carolina will need to find a free agent to sign and give them some ease of mind in 2020.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have one of the most complete defenses in the NFL. Outside of a star linebacker, New Orleans will look to keep up their consistency as one of the top defenses in the NFL in 2020. It’ll be a task for any team in the NFC South, as it has been for several years now, to play well against the Saints defensive line and secondary. Defensive end Cameron Jordan is by far the Saints best answer at pass rush. His 15.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits in 2019 are elite statistically. Marcus Davenport is another consistent player with six sacks and 16 quarterback hits in 2019.
New Orleans’ secondary is still in excellent hands with cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins, along with safeties Marcus Williams and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Let’s not leave out the linebacker room here with Demario Davis and Kiko Alonso. Davis has had over 100 tackles in five of his eight seasons while never missing a game in those eight years. Although Alonso had his share of injuries in 2019, a torn right ACL, and a quad issue, he is a proven starter on a defense that plays at a top-level. New Orleans hopes that rookie linebacker Zach Baun can be a “positionless” linebacker playing both inside and outside. With Alonso playing mike linebacker and the Saints not having much depth at that position, Baun seems to be the fill-in guy if Alonso goes down.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One of the youngest secondaries in the NFL, Tampa Bay had much to live on from the conclusion of 2019. This young secondary took big strides down the stretch in 2019 with players like Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean stepping their games up. Sean Murphy-Bunting displayed flashes of being “clutch” with a few interceptions in those last several games. Tampa’s biggest concern is the safety position. Will Just Evans ever make back on the field? That could help some fans ease their minds when talking about the safety position. Jordan Whitehead has been one of my favorite players to watch on this defense especially when he’s low and in the box blitzing the quarterback or providing run support.
Tampa’s defensive line is nearly all back for the 2020 season headlined by Shaquil Barrett, Vita Vea, and Jason Pierre-Paul. Defensively, this is one of the strongest position groups on the team. Linebackers Lavonte David and now second-year man Devin White hold down the linebacking group as one of the most underrated linebacker duos in the league. If the Buccaneers can replicate what they accomplished defensively in 2019 into 2020, then this defense may be a force to reckon with.
With much anticipation for the start of the 2020 NFL season, the NFC South will be a must-see division. With Tampa’s big free-agent signing of Tom Brady and Teddy Bridgewater heading east to Carolina, these defenses will have these divisional games circled on their calendars.